US doctors needle Marlboro Man

IN THE latest showdown with the Marlboro Man, as America's war against the tobacco companies is now dubbed, doctors have called for government regulation of cigarettes, because they are 'no different than syringes' in the way they deliver the drug, nicotine. Reporting a new study on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, doctors at the American Medical Association have called for cigarettes to be regulated like morphine and heroin and kept out of the hands of minors.

The five-year study suggested non-smoking women whose husbands smoke have up to a 30 per cent greater chance of developing lung cancer than women who live in a smoke-free environment. Non-smoking women whose husbands smoke two packs a day for 40 years faced an 80-per-cent increased risk of lung cancer. The study estimated that second-hand smoke caused 3,000 lung-cancer deaths a year as against the estimated 400,000 deaths from smoking-related diseases.

The tobacco companies, through their public-relations arm, the Tobacco Institute, claimed the new study, which involved 653 non-smoking women, shows 'no statistical increase in risk'. In recent months, the tobacco companies have been under attack from federal agencies proposing to increase restrictions on smoking in the workplace and in towns and cities, and from the US Food and Drug Administration, which is asking Congress to decide whether cigarettes should be regulated, like drugs.

Two states, Florida and Mississippi, have taken legal action against the tobacco companies, holding them responsible for the health consequences of smoking. Florida says its taxpayers have spent at least pounds 800,000 in health- care benefits on smoke-related illnesses since 1989. Other states are likely to follow their example.

The tobacco companies maintain that anyone who smokes knowingly assumes all the risks associated with the habit, and that those who sue generally fail to prove conclusively that smoking caused their illness. In recent hearings before Congress, the tobacco company executives lined up to say they did not know whether cigarette smoke caused cancer, a response that simply spurred Congressmen to greater efforts of inquiry.

The number of American smokers, estimated at 48 million, is declining, but the number of smokers aged from 18 to 24 went up last year from 23 to 24 per cent.

WASHINGTON - A key Senate panel yesterday voted to raise the federal cigarette tax from 24 cents to dollars 1.74 ( pounds 1.16) per pack to pay for health care reform, and to make more small businesses eligible for exemptions from the requirement to pay their workers' health insurance, Reuter reports.

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